New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is indicted (again!) for bribery and corruption

September 25th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

Last Friday, the United States District Court of Southern New York indicted Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), his wife, Nadine Menendez, and three New Jersey businessmen on bribery and corruption charges. The bribes the Senator is accused of taking include a $60,000 Mercedes car for his wife, mortgage payments, $100,000 in gold bars, and about half a million dollars in cash, all in exchange for using his office and chairmanship on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to increase U.S. aid to Egypt and provide favors to the three businessmen in his state who were also indicted. The 39-page indictment is granular in its damnation.

Basically, the indictment tells the story of how, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (he stepped down Friday following the release of the indictment), Menendez had the power to approve or place holds on “foreign military financing and sales of military equipment to Egypt.” The indictment charges that, in exchange for Menendez approving the sale of military equipment to Egypt, Wael Hana, a New Jersey businessman with close ties to Egyptian officials, would pay bribe money to Nadine Menendez whom Hana had hired for what was, essentially, a no-show job.

According to the indictment, Bob Menendez would text Nadine advanced details of official actions approving arms sales. Nadine would then forward these messages to Hana, who would pass the information to the Egyptian government.

Menendez was also indicted and tried for bribery in 2015, but that trial ended in a hung jury, and the government chose not to retry the Senator. You’d think he would have learned. That first trial ended in 2018, and Friday’s indictment makes clear that by that time the Senator was already into this current bribery scheme.

When the FBI searched the Menendez home, investigators found more than $500,000 in cash, much of it hidden in closets and clothing, including a jacket with Senator Menendez’s name and the U.S. Senate seal.

Menendez, who is up for re-election next year, was defiant in a statement he released this morning, saying he would be exonerated, he would not resign, and, yes, he will stay in next year’s race and expects to win. New Jersey Democratic politicians, from the Governor on down, and including the state’s Junior Senator John Fetterman, have called on Menendez to resign. But they are pretty much the only Democrats doing that. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other party leaders are urging caution, with Schumer saying, “Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey. He has a right to due process and a fair trial.” This is true, but still…

Judd Legum, writing in Popular Information this morning, points out that Senator Menendez does have a constitutional right to be presumed innocent and to have a fair trial, but does not have a constitutional right to be a U.S. Senator. Legum goes on to contrast the way Democratic leaders are treating this new and latest Menendez indictment with the way they handled accusations against former Senator Al Franken in 2017. Legum writes:

In 2017, Leeann Tweeden, a conservative radio talk show host, accused then-Senator Al Franken (D-MN) of “having forced an unwanted kiss on her during a 2006 U.S.O. tour.” Over the next couple of weeks, seven other women accused Franken of inappropriate touching or kissing. About half of Franken’s accusers remain anonymous. There were no criminal charges or any investigation of Franken’s alleged conduct.

Nevertheless, Schumer called on Franken to resign immediately, urging him not to wait for the “due process” of an Ethics Committee investigation:

“Senator Franken should resign. I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately.”

More than 30 Democratic Senators called for Franken’s immediate resignation. And, despite not being charged of any crime, the Senator from Minnesota’s fall was stunningly swift. He resigned less than three weeks after the first accusation.

So why did Schumer, et al, want Franken, with no indictment, out lickety-split, and Menendez, now with two of them, to hang around and wait for a “fair trial?” The only prominent politician I’ve been able to find who did not, knee-jerkedly, call for Franken to resign, was South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who, during the 2020 presidential primary season,  was widely criticized on social media for saying that he would not have pressured Franken to resign without first learning more about the alleged incidents.

Although both Franken and Tweeden called for an independent investigation into her charges, none took place. This reticence reflected the 2017 cultural moment when women’s accusations of sexual discrimination and harassment were finally being taken seriously, after years of belittlement and dismissal. Al Franken and the #MeToo movement collided with disastrous results for Franken.

But Menendez is different. He’s been in Congress for 30 years, a Senator for the last 18. He knows where a lot of bodies are buried. And it is apparently important that the charges against him are what you might call “economic,” rather than sexual. Thus far, his influential colleagues don’t think he has touched the political third rail. They’re wrong, though.

I wonder how long will it take his friends in the Senate, having stuck their wet fingers up in the air, to realize that rank and file Americans have had enough, and that it is time for Bob Menendez to go the way of Al Franken.

If not, it is interesting to contemplate the thought of both Bob Menendez and Donald Trump being tried in the Southern District Court of New York at the same time while running for two of America’s highest offices.

We live in strange times.